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How to Install a VPN on Windows

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

More than any other device, you need to protect your PC with a VPN. Thankfully, it’s also the easiest. Our comprehensive step-by-step guide walks you through every step of installation.

A laptop running Microsoft Windows

Lots of our most sensitive activity is carried out on PC: online banking, shopping, emailing, file-sharing. It’s really important to stop criminals, governments or anyone else from spying on you why you do this.

A VPN is the cheapest and most reliable way to ensure that everything you do while online on your Windows computer is kept secure and cannot be spied on. It will also let you stream geoblocked content, torrent securely and game seemlessly.

Installing a VPN on Windows is easy. Most of the time all you need to do is go to the VPN provider’s website, download it and connect.

What You'll Need

Here’s what you need to get started with a Windows VPN:

  • You’ll need a subscription to a trusted VPN provider (unless you own your own VPN server)
  • Depending on the method you choose, you also might need some third party software
  • Of course, you’ll need a Windows computer

Other than that, you don’t really need anything to set up a VPN on Windows.

Method 1: VPN Provider's Software (Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10)

Difficulty ★☆☆☆☆ — Easiest

For most users, most of the time, this will be how you install your VPN.

Before you get a VPN you need to sign up for a VPN service, which generally costs a small monthly subscription. If you don’t already have a VPN subscription, you should take a look at our list of the best VPNs for 2022.

Your VPN subscription will get you access to a few things. It will allow you to use its software, and it will also give you access to the full range of its VPN servers.

Your VPN provider’s software is generally the quickest and easiest way to get it running.

To do this, you’ll want to navigate to your provider’s website, download its Windows installer and follow the on-screen instructions.

Which versions of Windows are supported will vary from VPN to VPN, but you can be guaranteed Windows 10 will be supported.

If you are still running on Windows XP, take a look further down the page for a list of providers who support the operating system.

We’ve put together a step by step guide to doing this with CyberGhost, one of our highest-rated VPNs, but the process is very similar for all major VPN providers:

  1. Go to the CyberGhost website.
  2. Navigate to VPN Apps > Windows VPN.
    A list of CyberGhost's VPN apps
  3. Ensuring you are logged in, select Download App.
    The download page for CyberGhost VPN
  4. A .exe file will download – run it.
  5. When prompted, select Yes to allow Cyberghost to make changes to the hard-drive on this computer.
  6. Read the Terms & Conditions, then press Accept if you’re comfortable with them.
    CyberGhost VPN's terms and conditions
  7. Select Install.A screenshot of a Windows Security popup
  8. Enter your Username and Password, then click Log in.
    Screenshot of the CyberGhost VPN login screen
  9. Your VPN is fully set up and ready to use, easy as that.
    Screenshot of CyberGhost VPN's homepage

This is by far the best way to set up your VPN. It will give you full access to all the available features, as well as allowing you to swap between servers quickly and easily.

Method 2: OpenVPN Config (Windows 7, 8, 10)

Difficulty ★★★☆☆ — Moderate

OpenVPN is the open-source VPN protocol that most commercial VPNs have been built upon. The OpenVPN Project, which maintains the protocol, also maintains open-source VPN clients for Windows operating systems newer than Windows 7.

This means you can use the OpenVPN GUI on Windows 7, 8, or 10.

Unfortunately, as of OpenVPN GUI 2.4, Windows XP is not supported.

The OpenVPN GUI is our first preference when we can’t or don’t want to use the provider’s own software. It can take a little getting used to, but gives you access to the industry-leading OpenVPN protocol.

Setting up your PC or laptop with a VPN on the OpenVPN GUI is normally a little more difficult than just using your VPN provider’s software, but it is made simple by following these steps:

(For this example we will be using IPVanish).

  1. Go to https://openvpn.net/community-downloads/
  2. Select the correct installer for your version of Windows (we’re using Windows 10).
    Screenshot of the OpenVPN community downloads page
  3. An .exe file will be downloaded – open it.
  4. Select Next, then read through the licence agreement and press I Agree.
    Screenshot of the OpenVPN licence agreement
  5. Leave the default selection and then press Next.
    Screenshot of the OpenVPN installer
  6. Choose your Destination Folder (the default is fine), then press Install.
    Screenshot of the OpenVPN install location
  7. Press Next, then Finish to complete installation.
    Screenshot of the completed OpenVPN installation
  8. Login to your IPVanish account.
  9. Navigate to the Server List tab.
    Screenshot of the IPVanish server list
  10. Under Configuration Files, select OpenVPN.
  11. A .zip file will download.
  12. Open the .zip file and extract the security certificate and the OpenVPN config files for your desired servers to C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config
    If you saved OpenVPN in a different location earlier then this location will be different.
    Screenshot of OpenVPN set up with IPVanish
  13. Locate OpenVPN GUI on your computer and run it.
    Screenshot of OpenVPN GUI in situ
  14. In the bottom right corner of your desktop click the ^ icon to reveal an icon of a computer screen with a padlock.
    Screenshot of the OpenVPN GUI location
  15. Right click on this icon and press Connect
  16. You will need to enter your Username and Password, then press OK
    Screenshot of Username and Password field in OpenVPN GUI
  17. You are now connected! You can manage your connection from the computer screen and padlock icon – which should now be green
    Screenshot of OpenVPN GUI with an active connection

You won’t be able to switch between servers easily like with your VPN’s own software. You won’t have any of the advanced features, either.

Still, the OpenVPN GUI is perfectly functional, and allows you to use the highly reliable OpenVPN protocol.

Method 3: Windows' Built-in VPN Manual Set Up (Windows 10)

Difficulty ★★☆☆☆ — Easy

Provided you have a VPN subscription, you can set up a connection without downloading any software at all.

This is most useful if Windows 10 is set to S mode, preventing you from installing apps from outside the Windows Store. It is also useful for those setting up a VPN without a client – but we generally prefer to use the OpenVPN GUI client for this purpose.

Windows will let you use PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP or IKEv2, so you need to make sure your provider is compatible with one of these protocols first.

We strongly warn against using PPTP, which is no longer considered safe or secure.

Provided you already have a VPN subscription, it’s a short and easy process. We’re using Windscribe with the IKEv2 protocol, but you can use any reliable VPN provider.

  1. Go to windscribe.com/download
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select IKEv2, under Config Generators.
    Screenshot of Windscribe's config generators
  3. From the drop-down menu, select the server location you want to connect to, then click Get Profile Details.
    Screenshot of the Windscribe server select field
  4. Make a note of the hostname, username and password.
    Screenshot of the Windscribe Profile Details page
  5. Open the search box in the bottom-left-hand corner of your PC and search for VPN Settings, then click Open.
    Screenshot of Windows's VPN UI in the start menu
  6. Click Add a VPN connection.
    Screenshot of Windows' VPN settings
  7. In the VPN provider dropdown menu, select Windows (built-in).
    Screenshot of the "Add a VPN connection field"
  8. Under Connection name you can enter anything, then copy the hostname from before into the Server name or address field.
    Screenshot of the "Connection name" field
  9. Under VPN type select IKEv2, then under Type of sign-in info, select Username and password.
    Screenshot of the "VPN type" field
  10. Enter the Username and Password from before, then click Save.
    Screenshot of the username and password fields
  11. Your VPN should have appeared back in VPN Settings, click on it, then click Connect.
    Screenshot of a VPN in your VPN settings
  12. You are now connected, good job.
    Screenshot of a connected Windscribe connection

The benefits and drawbacks to setting up a VPN this way are pretty similar to using the OpenVPN GUI: you won’t be able to swap between servers easily, but it saves you from having to download software to your computer.

It’s a quicker process than using the OpenVPN GUI – but you’ll be missing out on the unbeaten security of the OpenVPN protocol.

How to Set Up a VPN Server in Windows 10

Difficulty ★★★★★ — Expert

You’ll need to do a little preparation before you can set up your own VPN server: you’ll need to buy an appropriate router or some cloud server space, as well as downloading an appropriate VPN client, such as OpenVPN GUI onto your PC.

You can also turn your Windows 10 computer itself into a VPN server. For the best results, we recommend reading our guide to setting up your own VPN server.

Does Windows 10 Come with a Built in VPN?

Windows 10 comes with a built in VPN client. This means you can connect to VPN servers from your PC or laptop without downloading any additional software – just follow Method 3, above.

You will, however, still need to subscribe to a VPN before you can do this.

Which VPN Providers Support Windows XP?

It’s been almost 20 years since Windows XP was introduced, and while it has been largely phased out there are still people who rely on this iconic legacy operating system.

For the best protection you should upgrade to a newer operating system; while Windows XP receives very occasional updates for serious problems, it officially stopped receiving support from Microsoft over five years ago.

Upgrading from XP to Windows 10 is free and, from a security perspective, absolutely vital. Even if you’re running a VPN on Windows XP you will not be as secure as when using a newer operating system.

Still, if for any reason you have to use Windows XP it is possible to use a VPN. We’ve done our best to draw up a list of the top VPN providers who do and don’t support Windows XP in 2022.

These VPN providers maintain apps and support for Windows XP:

  • Windscribe
  • ExpressVPN
  • AirVPN
  • VPNArea
  • Froot VPN
  • SaferVPN
  • Hotspot Shield

Some top providers who do not support Windows XP include:

  • NordVPN
  • CyberGhost
  • Surfshark
  • IPVanish
  • PrivateInternetAccess
  • Astrill VPN
  • ProtonVPN

But just because your provider doesn’t explicitly support Windows XP, doesn’t mean you can’t access its service.

Some providers have legacy apps which are still compatible with Windows XP. Even if your provider doesn’t have this, it may still be possible to manually configure your connection using Windows Dialler – provided it supports the L2TP protocol.

As always we strongly recommend against using the vulnerable PPTP protocol.

We’ve used ExpressVPN to demonstrate how to do this:

Difficulty ★★★★☆ — Hard

  1. In your web browser, log into your ExpressVPN account
  2. Select Set Up ExpressVPNScreenshot of the "Set Up ExpressVPN" page
  3. On the left hand side of the page, select Manual ConfigScreenshot of the ExpressVPN compatible devices
  4. Select PPTP & L2TP/IPsec on the right hand side of the page, then copy the Username and PasswordScreenshot of the ExpressVPN manual Configuration page
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Download Windows DiallersScreenshot of the ExpresVPN Windows Diallers
  6. A .zip file will download, Extract its contents
  7. Open the Dialler file inside and select PropertiesScreenshot of Windows Diallers for ExpressVPN
  8. Navigate to the Security tab, then select Advanced and press SettingsScreenshot of the Security settings in ExpressVPN Windows Diallers
  9. Under Allow these protocols select Microsoft CHAP Version 2 then click OKScreenshot of the Advanced Security Settings in Windows Diallers
  10. Returning to the Security tab, click IPSEC Settings
  11. In the Key field, enter 12345678Screenshot of the IPSec Settings in Windows Diallers
  12. Click OK again to return to the main window
  13. Under Choose a network connection, choose your preferred server then click Connect…Screenshot of the final steps to set up ExpressVPN on Windows XP
  14. Enter the User name and Password you found from ExpressVPN earlier, then click ConnectScreenshot of Username and Password entry for ExpressVPN in Windows Diallers
  15. Your VPN is now connected

Can I Run a VPN on Windows Phone? (Windows Phone 8.1)

Difficulty ★★★☆☆ — Moderate

It isn’t as easy to get a VPN running on Windows Phone as it is on other mobile platforms.

Because Windows isn’t a particularly popular operating system for mobile users, it has struggled to attract the same volume of app development as Android or iOS.

This means that specific apps for Windows Phone are few and far between. Even the largest VPN providers generally don’t produce them.

Like on PC, though, Microsoft have provided a built-in VPN client for Windows Phone.

You will need a VPN provider that supports either the IKEv2 or L2TP protocol, and you will need to access the manual configuration information for it.

The best way to find this information will vary slightly by provider, but the general steps are similar.

Here is an example of how to get your VPN working on Windows Phone 8.1 using ExpressVPN:

  1. In a web browser, log into your ExpressVPN account.
  2. Select Set Up ExpressVPN.Screenshot of the "Set Up ExpressVPN" page
  3. From the list of available devices, select Manual Config.Screenshot of the ExpressVPN compatible devices
  4. Select the PPTP & L2TP/IPsec tab, then make a note of the Username and Password on the right hand side of the page.Screenshot of the ExpressVPN manual Configuration page
  5. Scroll down the page to find your preferred server, then make a note of its address.Screenshot of the ExpressVPN server addresses
  6. On your Windows Phone, open the Settings app.Screenshot of the Windows Phone Settings menu
  7. Select VPN set up.Screenshot of Windows Phone System Settings
  8. Turn the VPN toggle on, then tap the + symbol at the bottom of the screen.Screenshot of Windows Phone VPN Settings
  9. You need to enter the server address of your desired server and select L2TP with IPSec before scrolling down the page.Screenshot showing how to select L2TP
  10. In the “Connect using” field, select username+password+pre-shared key, then enter the Username and Password you retrieved from your VPN service provider’s website earlier.Screenshot of the Username and Password fields
  11. Scrolling further down, enter the Pre-shared key you found earlier.
  12. Make sure to toggle Send all traffic on, name the VPN connection (e.g. “ExpressVPN”), then press save.Screenshot showing where to enter your pre-shared key
  13. Your VPN is now set up and ready to use.Screenshot showing a connected VPN on Windows Phone

There are some limitations to this method: you will need to set up a new connection for every location you want to connect to and this is not as secure as an OpenVPN connection.

It’s much better than nothing, though.

If you’re a Windows Phone user, though, you should take note – as of 10 December 2019 Windows officially ceased support for Windows 8.1 mobile on 10 December 2019. Microsoft even recommends that you change to an iOS or Android handset and, frankly, we do too.

Which VPN Is Best for Windows 10?

Windows 10 is the most popular operating system worldwide, only matched by Android in the number of VPNs with which it is compatible.

This is great news if you want to use a VPN on your PC or laptop, because you have the pick of the litter.

There is no universal best VPN for Windows, because the best VPN for you depends on your needs and preferences.

We are constantly updating our rundown of the top VPNs for Windows based on rigorous, up-to-date testing of 70 VPNs. This is the best place to find the right VPN for you.

Can I Get a Free VPN for Windows 10?

We think that when you use a VPN you should expect several things from your provider: good performance, minimal logging, a reliable service, responsive support, and secure encryption.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find a free VPN that offers all these things. It can be difficult to find a VPN that offers any of these things.

There are, however, a few free VPNs that we do recommend. We keep an updated list of the top free VPNs to make sure you don’t get caught out by any dangerous services.

About the Author

  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio